Varicose veins occur when veins become swollen and enlarged which can be painful and unsightly, and potentially cause other complications. This condition tends to occur on the legs and feet with veins typically appearing blue or dark purple as well as lumpy, bulging or twisted in appearance.
Research has found that about a third of the UK population suffers from varicose veins but what causes this condition? Here, we break down some common causes and identify who may be more at risk from developing this condition.
What causes varicose veins?
According to the NHS, varicose veins are usually caused by weak vein walls and valves. Veins contain small, one-way valves which open and close, letting blood through and stopping it from flowing backwards. However, sometimes the walls of veins can lose their elasticity or stretch which means that these valves can become weak. There are many reasons why the walls of the veins can stretch or weaken, many of which aren’t fully understood. Sometimes, a reason for the condition is hard to find.
When the valves don't function properly, blood can leak and flow backwards - potentially collecting in your veins. This can cause them to become swollen and enlarged.
Who is at risk?
The reasons why veins weaken or become problematic are not always known. There are a number of things that have been known to correlate with an increased risk of developing varicose veins. For example, research suggests that women are more likely to be affected by varicose veins than men, which may be down to female hormones relaxing the walls of the veins. Being overweight has also been linked to an increased risk of developing the condition as well as having a job that involves long periods of standing because blood no longer flows as easily following long periods of standing.
Being pregnant can cause the walls of the blood vessels to relax due to increased hormone levels, which increases the risk of varicose veins developing. Pregnancy also increases the amount of blood in your body, putting extra strain on your veins.
If you have a close family member with varicose veins, you may also be more at risk, along with other conditions where varicose veins could occur as a knock-on impact. This could be through a previous blood clot or abnormal blood vessels, although these connections are rare.
Unfortunately, getting older can also lead to varicose veins developing. This is because veins naturally lose their elasticity which can stop valves within the veins from working as well as before.
Varicose veins can present themselves in many different ways, each of which may require different forms of treatment. If you have varicose veins that are not causing pain or discomfort, it may be that you do not need to have treatment. In some cases, however, it may be that surgical treatment is required to mitigate any unpleasant and painful side effects.
To find out more about whether or not you have varicose veins, or whether you require further treatment, we recommend that you seek advice from a doctor. They will then be able to refer you to Benenden Hospital for diagnosis and treatment. Find out more about varicose veins on our dedicated page, or get in touch with our team today.
Published on 21 June 2019